I'm really excited about today's message and next week's message because we're offered the opportunity to learn more about God's gift of grace. And to understand and accept God's grace is to understand and accept God's greatest gift to humankind.
Now some might ask what about Jesus Christ, isn't he the greatest gift? Well, my response is without God's grace there is no Jesus. Jesus is a form of God's grace. And I hope over the next two weeks you'll see this and understand what I mean by this
So let's begin with the question, "Why in the world does humanity need God?" After all God created us with a brain to think, the ability to discern right from wrong, and the capacity to make rational decisions. Heck we even read in the Bible we were
created in God's own image (Imago Dei), so why do we need to continue to have God in our lives, what's the point?
Well the simple answer to this question is sin. A more complex answer to the question is when God gave us the ability to think and reason, we were also given the ability to make our own choices, we were given free will. And as it turns out, because
of all these amazing gifts God created us with, it wasn't long before we began to make the wrong choices by succumbing to evil, visa vie Adam and Eve.
And it's safe to say, no matter how hard we try, we continue to make wrong choices in our lives, often times choosing darkness over light, sin over God, and choosing self over others.
So God has had to intervene, by offering us yet another powerful and remarkable gift, and that's the gift of grace.
Now grace can be a difficult gift to fully appreciate, so this week and next week I will focus my message on the difference experiences of grace, how grace works in our life, and how grace ultimately leads us to salvation.
So first, let's consider sin, and the two types of sin: there's original sin and there's actual sin. Original sin is a universal characteristic of humanity, which affects everyone, there's no exception, and I don't care how Godly a person seems to be
they're still affected by original sin.
Original sin is inherited by all children of Adam and Eve and therefore none of us escapes its influence on our lives. Now how this sinful nature is inherited remains a mystery to us, but it's apparent that something occurred that has infected the
whole human race. My goodness all we need to do is look around at the world and its people, and we can see this is true.
This infection of sin touches every human being, and on our own we're not capable of conquering or overcoming it, we must accept the work of Christ. Also, to deny the reality of this sin is to refute the foundational truth of Christianity.
On the other hand, actual sin is the willful disobedience of God's known law, His standards, and His way of living. These are unethical acts that separate us from God for which we are liable to God's judgment. When we fail to admit or recognize our
sinfulness we succumb to spiritual death. Humans become culpable when they yield to this sinful nature, commit actual sin, and then on top of it reject the remedy offered by God through Jesus Christ.
Every human being falls into actual sin, and therefore there exists a universal need for grace, which is defined as unmerited favor. Grace is a gift we don't deserve and a gift we can't buy or earn through our good works.
Now when you hear me say we're all sinners I'm referring to original sin, and whenever you hear me say we're moving onto perfection, I'm referring to the victory over actual sin.
In the United Methodist Church service of ordination, all those seeking to become ordained elders are asked the question, "Are you moving onto perfection in this lifetime?" The expected answer is yes, meaning these individuals are intentionally
striving, by the grace of God, to become victorious over the actual sin in their life, meaning overcoming the willful disobedience of God. And this should be the goal of all Christians. Hebrews 6:1 says we all are to be "going on to perfection."
But even if we're victorious over actual sin, we're still infected by original sin, and it's this original sin that keeps trying to pull us away from what God originally created us to be. It's this sin that keeps us trying to be something we can't,
in other words, insisting that we be like God: all knowledgeable, in total control of our lives, and invincible.
Now it's kind of depressing knowing that we're infected with sin and that there's nothing WE can do about it. WE can't simply take a pill or be hooked up to an IV to rid ourselves of the infection. But there is good news and that's the good news of
grace. God's grace is the antibiotic of the soul and is sufficient to overcome all sin.
The power of sin and its hold on us is overcome by the power of God's love, mercy, and forgiveness. Paul reminds us in Romans, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." (Romans 5:20) As we all know the Christian journey is not always an
easy one, and nothing irks me more than people making Christianity out to be nothing more than a "feel good" philosophical way to live. So to turn following Christ into nothing more than a positive thinking, good moral living, feel good about yourself philosophy, is
misunderstanding the true nature of humanity, and the need for humanity to repent and be reconciled to God by grace through faith in Christ.
I'm also my persuaded that the more we know, the greater understanding we have about our faith, and the deeper our relationship with Christ, the less likely we will allow sin to completely take over our lives causing us to fall away from faith.
Back-sliding, or falling from grace, is very real and needs to be taken very seriously.
Now some who have a tendency to back-slide or turn from the faith ask, "When am I going to get something out of my relationship with God?" Well if all we do is focus on what God can do for us, we have no real relationship with God and we don't
understand what it means to be a child of God. The real issue for these folks is they need to stop putting themselves first and put something into their relationship with God.
Now with our understanding of sin we know that sin is not what God wants for us, it never was. God is not content for us to experience nothing of life but the threat and pull of original sin, so God comes to us, even in our sinfulness, with grace.
Now grace is expressed in different ways, but it's all the same grace. So for the next two weeks I will speak of grace in three different ways, but again it's all the same grace from the same God, what makes it different if you will, is how we
The beginning work of salvation is God's prevenient grace. And the word prevenient simply means "to come before." Prevenient grace is universal grace that is found in everyone. It anticipates and prepares us for the coming of saving grace. John
Wesley says, prevenient grace implies some "tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart." Wesley often spoke of grace "being free for all and free in all." "Free for all" means grace is available to everyone,
without exception. "Free in all" refers to prevenient grace which "waits not for the call." We don't have to ask for it or even desire it. It's simply there for the receiving.
Prevenient grace awakens human beings to their sinful condition and the reality of this world, and their need of salvation. It's the working of the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and convinces us of our sinfulness. It's the Holy Spirit that
makes us aware of God's grace and gives us the ability to respond to God's offer of forgiveness. And the Holy Spirit works in the lives of all people, Christian or not.
Now while all people receive this grace it is possible to fall from grace by rejecting the Holy Spirit, meaning turning away from God's grace, denying grace, and becoming dead to the promptings of God. But even with this said it doesn't mean a person
who turns away from God is outside the sphere of God's love and care forever. God never gives up on us and will respond favorably to our reaching out and returning to Him.
This is good news for those of us who know people who have rejected God's grace, choosing instead to follow there own way. God will keep trying to touch their hearts, hoping that they will choose to respond to the tugging and convicting of the Holy
In grace God comes to us first. This is the significance of prevenient grace. God seeks us before we ever seek him, before we even know to seek him. The initiative of salvation is with God.
Within every life, from the very beginning, is this simple, basic presence and movement of God that stirs up within us questions and the desire to want to know more about life, our purpose, and God's role in our life.
Prevenient grace gives us the desire and power to respond to God. In this understanding we see both the power of divine initiative and human response. We are given the ability to respond to God without God dictating our response because we retain the
gift of free will and the ability to choose. So God gives us the power to choose light or darkness, either life or death. Simply put, grace works to call us to repent and trust God.
And we must respond to God because prevenient grace is not enough for salvation. Prevenient grace is just the beginning, it gives us a sense of God but is not the totality of God's grace. So prevenient grace only serves to stir up in us the need to
repent, and it's repentance that serves as the entrance into a life of faith.
The Christian life cannot begin without a person's heart-felt acknowledgement of sin, and more specifically the sin in their own life, the sin they have surrendered to, the sin they have committed. Repentance always precedes faith, there is no
shortcut! Without true repentance there is no true faith.
It's prevenient grace that makes this awareness of our fallen state possible. And it's important for us to realize repentance is not so much remorse as it is true self-understanding. So we're to repent, know our true selves, and acknowledge we are
In addition to self-knowledge, repentance involves a deep desire to escape from our present state and to enter the door of the kingdom of God. Then faith comes to us as a gift from God, not because we've earned it or deserve it, but a gift given to
us out of God's love for us.
Again, our human response to God is not because of any inherent ability we have, or because of some enlightened state we might think we're in, but because of God's prior presence in our lives. Without God's prevenient grace we would be unable to
respond to God and receive the gift of faith.
So our human response to God's grace and gift of faith is necessary. We must actively respond to God's gracious offer of the free gift of faith, which is the sole condition of justification, by reaching out with arms of repentance to receive this
The author of First John emphasizes this truth by writing, "If we confess our sins, [God who] is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. [But] if we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar
and his Word has no place in our lives."
This passage of scripture emphasizes with absolute clarity that "to walk in the light as Christ walks in the light" is not to claim or pretend infallibility, but to respond to God's prevenient grace, to own up to our sins that break relationship with
God, and to seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, so that by grace a right relationship with God can be restored.
To better illustrate how God's grace works, think of God's grace as a big house with a wrap around porch. The porch is God's prevenient grace and all are welcome onto the porch. It's what gets us to the entrance of God's house, but it doesn't open
the door, and you can't sneak in through the windows.
Next week we will address the experience of grace that allows us to open the door and enter God's house, and we will consider the experience of God's grace that allows us to explore the wonder of God's house. So why does humanity need God? Because we
were born in sin; therefore we must be born again. We are completely corrupt in nature; yet we can be completely renewed by grace.
Without God, we on our own; cannot overcome the guilt and sin in our lives, and we are unable to be reconciled to God. Without God there is no grace, there is no conquering sin, there is no hope for a more abundant and fruit-bearing life. And without
God in Jesus Christ there is no reordering of life, and there is no eternal life.
So admit to your sin! Accept the cure! And respond to the stirring in your heart. Confess your sins, seek forgiveness, and experience the gift of God's grace.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade